“And if wishes were horses, we’d all be eatin’ steak.” – Jayne Cobb
Oh how I wish Firefly had lasted at least a few more episodes, thought I suppose I can be glad it went out at the top of its game. But Objects in Space is an example of why just about any Joss Whedon show will at least get a season with me no matter what. Potential. Whedon isn’t afraid to go dark, or bizarre at times. And he trusts his audience to give him enough latitude to give them something different. Objects In Space is different, after the jump.
In a way this episode was overdue. Part of the premise of the original pilot was that River and Simon’s presence on Serenity was the last thing Mal needed, but he allowed it anyway, maybe as a sort of redemption. He wouldn’t take away the last hope of two innocents. It was always inevitable that bad people doing bad things would track down River and Simon and that the crew of Serenity would have to save them or lose them. They spent some time setting it up, two by two, hands of blue, but never fully got the chance to explore it before cancellation. This was as close as they got. But what they got is something very different.
River understands but doesn’t comprehend, and she’s referring to herself in the third person again. We see some of what causes River’s confusion. She sees what people say and what they think simultaneously. The two don’t always match, and in a few cases, Book and her brother, the contrast is jarring. It seems to mess with her perceptions, seeing the dark everyone hides and understanding at some level things aren’t really what they appear to be. She feels waves of emotion she can’t escape or control, and Serenity is starting to feel too crowded for her. But then there’s something simple. An inanimate object, with no other side to it, no hidden meaning. To river’s mind a gun must seem simple, comforting, almost innocent compared to the people around her. She ponders it. How is it so different than a stick? She understands it is, but doesn’t comprehend why. It’s just an object in space, devoid of purpose as a twig separated from a tree when it lays on the ground.
And then there’s Jubal Early. The disturbed, and perhaps somewhat like River bounty hunter has been tracking Serenity for some time. He certainly seems to know a lot about all of the crew. He certainly knows how to frighten Kaylee and apparently knows something more about Book than we do. Whether he represents another side of River, a potential for River’s future, or the Alliances plans for River we’re never quite sure. What he does do is offer both us and River a glimpse of real darkness.
If you’ve followed Alan Sepinwall’s reviews this summer you’ll see that this is one of the episodes where he really feels that hearing the commentary and seeing the writer’s ideas play out on the screen is very worthwhile. I haven’t done that yet, but plan to. If for no other reason than to wrap my mind around all the various interpretations and possibilities. In the end though art of this sort is a very personal experience. I saw it as a transition for River and the crew.
It’s hard to fully understand this episode other than to note that Early causes a change in River. Perhaps she understands her innocent and sometimes confused actions or good intentions come off differently to the crew. Perhaps she now has the context to understand why the crew seem like two people at once. And Early’s seeming nonsequitors offer an interesting, if sometimes confusing running commentary. Certain things just don’t seem right to him, but they are reality and he can’t change them, only ponder. The gun River holds is no more than an object to her as she seems to ponder the difference between it and a stick, yet Early imbues his gun with a purpose. Yet at some point River reverses that and “becomes” Serenity. She sees herself as part of the ship, part of a functioning thing imbued with purpose, not just an object in space. And Early, he becomes an object in space.